And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chinese Mooning Over Hawaii

I couldn't get anyone, even my Chinese friends, at the last minute, to go with me to the Hawaii Chinese Culture Center's Moon Festival Celebration 2010, which is perhaps just as well. While I loved every minute of this entertaining spectacle, I'm not sure I would have felt right inflicting it on someone who hadn't already intended to go. The Wizard was wise to stay home and nurse his wisdom tooth extraction; the drums from the lion dancing might have been aggravating, especially during the chaotic seating which delayed the start of the show by half an hour and preempted the intermission in the two-hour performance.

As strange as the moon festival I celebrated in Wudang in 2008 (which featured karaoke,
Tibetan dancing and tai chi chuan demos and some very scary street food, (at right) and as flashy as the 5000-years-of-Chinese- history extravaganza in Hangzhou this spring, this Moon Festival had something for everyone, a Chinese Ed Sullivan Show celebrating not only the astronomical but the political as well. First, there was a nod to the 61st anniversary of the PRC (TAO 61 was there!), with cultural attaches from the Chinese Embassy in Los Angeles who process all of our Chinese visas, and emissaries representing the All China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (ACFROC, which provided most of entertainment program). Next, not exactly as a conciliation to the PRC, a representative from the campaign of our recent replacement Republican congressman, Charles Djou, (one of the strangest Romanizations of a Chinese name ever), winking to the Chinese, and later, our ultra-attractive Republican Lt. Gov. and candidate for the real thing, "Duke" Aiona, who explained at length his half-Hawaiian-half-Chinese heritage and provided a rather lovely discussion of the meaning of aloha (the giving and receiving aspects of the breath --the "ha" part-- of life, very Taoist really, and not just hi, bye-bye). It's notable that our ranking influential and essential U.S. Senator is Japanese and a Democrat.

After the opening Lion Dance, everyone finally sat down somewhere and the show began...with narration by a strange trio comprising a short personable Chinese pop singer, like a Chinese Buddy Hackett; a striking black woman whose Chinese was actually quite good, if halting, and a very tall blonde in an evening dress which changed from red to yellow midway in the show.

Opening act was a nice tai chi demo with someone playing a guqin over recorded music. Some of the demonstrators had some balance issues, but I really liked the women who did a tai chi sword routine. Got to learn that!

This was followed by a dance routine to "America the Beautiful," which featured, simultaneously, classical Western ballet, a modern dancer, a modern hula, and an ancient hula. All against a huge photographic backdrop of Diamond Head.

After the East-meets-West of tai chi and ballet and hula, ACFROC provided a number of vaguely Las Vegas-styled Chinese dances and vocal perfomances. Yong Liang (Buddy Hackett) did some pop-style Chinese songs which got the audience clapping and singing along. There was a pair of vaudeville-like guys who did ventriloquist routines, a magic act and a shadow play (which included silhouettes of people with background music by Michael Jackson). There was an incredible "rolling lamp" acrobatic performance, a mini-version of something I saw in Shanghai where an impossibly lithe person balances little candelabra on feet, head, hands, and moves around, from stomach, to back, to all sorts of balancing postures. People shouldn't be able to move and twist that way. I should note that in Shanghai the candelabra were actually lit. (Thinking about the contortions makes me want to dip into the Wizard's supply of wisdom tooth pain killers.) There were Mongolian dances and Tibetan dances, although the performers looked all Han Chinese to me. A woman in a Tibetan costume sang two very beautiful songs against a background of mountains...she may indeed have been Tibetan, but I'm not sure. (I'm not convinced the people who presented the elders of our Wudang 2008 tour with white scarves--khatas--at that moon festival were Tibetan either.) The audience at the Hawaii festival was too polite to shout something like "Free Tibet!", if they cared, although everyone was chatting among themselves most of the time, mostly in Cantonese. And my guess is that most of the Mandarin speakers in attendance hail from Taiwan.

This little dose of China (first authentic hit since May), where tonight I was, according to my own estimate, one of four white people in attendance, not counting the two non-Chinese narrators--will get me through to the next cultural event, the expo that kicks off the Hawaii Narcissus Festival set for Oct. 30-31. Last year it was earlier, closer to the Culture Center's Moon Festival. I look forward to another Lion Dance, (check out this "pole dancing") but will try to avoid the demonstrations of "penis qigong," one of the stranger attractions on last year's program. Ed Sullivan would never have scheduled that!

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Way of Reading

I'm not generally an early adopter of technology-- still don't have wireless in my house, have an analog landline I still use, not being phone- oriented enough to keep my cell fully charged, to say nothing of findable -- but I have become quite attached to my relatively new iPad. In five months, it has made my beloved MacBook Pro more or less obsolete for most of my purposes. Lonely laptop gets used mainly for watching DVDs, and managing my music and email. For the iPad, I have acquired lots of interesting apps, particularly several useful for Chinese language study. (I highly recommend the "train Chinese" apps and a searchable Chinese dictionary called Pleco. )

What I didn't expect to do was ever read a book on it. I never thought the Kindle was all that hot (being kind of Mac-prejudiced) and besides I have a love for ink, print and paper. And I live with a librarian; our home decor consists mainly of bookcases...lining the walls of every room of the apartment, including the bathrooms.

So I surprised myself recently to read "Brightsided: How Positive Thinking has Undermined America," through the Kindle app for the iPad (admittedly, fortune cookie-style, in bed), and it wasn't bad. I mean, the book was very good, and the experience of reading it that way was reasonably satisfying. The book explores the history of "positive thinking" through breast cancer awareness and cancer survivor programs, corporate cheerleading, prosperity gospel televangelism, and other annoying movements in post-9/11 America, including "positive psychology", also just profiled in Harper's Magazine, the paper copy of which I read concurrently with the e-book.

I'm normally regarded as a happy person, but I don't think of myself as all that positive, in a Pollyanna way. I enjoy my share of existential despair and am a practiced cynic. I just think of myself as a realist supported by the Tao. So it is ironic that a book about the downside of positive thinking got me over my negativity to e-books. At first I expected it to seem like work--I make a living by editing documents, usually in MS Word with "track changes" turned on, nobody uses red ink or blue pencil on paper anymore. (And one of the downsides of e-reading is not being able to underline and make little comments to myself...but wait, I am assured by other avid e-readers, you can do this, and SHARE the comments. But it's not the same experience.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010


The Wizard came home this afternoon having delivered an inspiring speech to incoming potential students/customers/clients of the liberal arts university where he is an administrator. I listened to the recorded speech (I'd read it the night before) and it made me weep. I felt like House listening to Wilson (I am the Holmes to his Watson...although I suspect he would think I am the Watson to his Holmes). It was perfect, Obama-esque rhetoric about higher education, and referential to the small liberal arts college where we met many years ago.

"Did they know you were going to wear that shirt?" I asked, when he passed his lei to me. It was perfect.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equinox and Full Moon

Even CNN has been reporting on the unusual coincidence of the autumnal equinox with a full moon, occurring more or less together at midnight, tonight. A solar balance accented by the full yang moon, about to change into yin, made me think of gourds, hu lu or wu lu, an important image in Chinese, and particularly Taoist symbolism.

It occurred to me today, in light, so to speak, of this astronomical event, how the hu lu symbolizes sun and moon, or earth and heaven in some kind of full balance. Actually, the heaven and earth unification is exactly what the bottle gourd represents in Taoist legend. When the gourd is opened, it is believed, a cloud comes out of the bottle which can trap demons.

I have always been attracted to the icons, which occur all over the place in Chinese art and architecture, long before I understood their place in the mythology. I have a warm memory of being invited into a back room of a cloisonne warehouse in Hong Kong when I asked if there were any of the gourd-shaped vases -- not the most popular tourist items --and found an attractive pair for a good price.

In 2007, just about exactly three years ago, I bought a brass one in Wudang, later to discover at home a completely preserved cicada, a classic symbol of immortality, in it. Maybe all the brass hu lu were cicada tombs, but, in any case when I got home it felt like a quasi-mystical discovery. I replaced the big bug in its urn and later added the sand from a mandala made the following spring by Bhutanese Tibetan Buddhist monks visiting in Honolulu. They had distributed packets of the sand when they ritually destroyed the intricate design. Their sharing of the sand was not a traditional disposition of the mandala material, but I think the monks might have appreciated my application.

On that same visit to Wudang, when I acquired the brass hu lu, a fellow traveler gave me a small real one that a farmer had given to her; a tiny version of the classic bottle gourd carried by drunken-master types in martial arts and wuxia movies. I still have it. The gourd is actually a symbol of Li- Tie-guai, one of the Eight Taoist Immortals.

A year or so ago, in Honolulu, at a traveling Chinese porcelain sales exhibit, there was a particularly enchanting large hu lu vase I regret having missed purchasing. The proprietors couldn't seem to figure out how much it cost: quoted prices varied from $8,995 to $250 (the good price I missed). It was classic blue and white Ming style, with designs of vines and bats -- a Chinese symbol of good luck, because the word for bat -- fu -- sounds the same as luck --fu. Knowing my disappointment, a friend gave me a similar vase for Christmas, although it had a standard chrysanthemum design, no bats. But not inappropriate for me --the chrysanthemum is the symbol of autumn, and another symbol of long life and duration.

Walking with my friend last May, in Wanfujing, major Beijing shopping district, (perhaps WanFUjing means lucky shopping) I was captivated by this billboard for some Chinese medicine:

And this design, in the sidewalk around West Lake in Hangzhou, gave me pause during my stroll.
I've always felt lucky, safe and healthy when I find these images.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Always Another Side

The other half of this perfect arc of a rainbow can be found over on the Yin Side. I actually stopped my car on the freeway Sept. 1 to take this shot, it was such a nice positive thing to see first thing in the morning. Half-and-half pictures because I don't have a wide angle lens on my little Casio Exilim, which for nearly five years has been faithfully doing duty not only for the everyday snapshots like this, but also on travel to the U.S. Mainland and China, at weddings and funerals, the ordination of an RC Bishop and the destruction of a sand mandala by Buddhist monks, recording my teacher's Chinese painting demonstrations and my own feeble efforts. The pocket digital workhorse is looking kind of beat up, but after all this time I am pretty adept with its controls. Only 5.0 megapixels, it seems obsolete, but, like my 20-year-old car, it still goes the distance. It does the one job it was designed for: no phone calls, no internet access, no calendar, just photography.

I only hope to become so adept with my new car radio...will it take four years? After I shot the rainbow, I managed to tune to the local NPR outlet to hear some news, some things to think about.

I learned from someone who runs some kind of "senior" home health care service that 7 out of 10 deaths in the growing population of folks 60+ are ultimately due to falls. I haven't been aware of being in such a demographic since the last time I was thought to be a "senior," the 45th anniversary of which condition is coming up next month. I won't make the high school reunion on the East Coast, but I have been thinking much about those of us on the leading edge of the Big Boom. I was so excited then to be a "senior," ascending the side of the rainbow leading to a wide open future; how quickly we reach the zenith and slide down the other. This melancholy thinking does remind me that I must step up my qigong exercises, one movement of which is called "past the rainbow." Qigong does promote balance, which I can always use more of, and thus, prevent falls.

Next news item was about affordable housing in Kaneohe. The state has spent $60 million on affordable studios and 2-bedroom units to rent to qualifying (poor) folks for ~$365-$865 a month. For perspective, my condo maintenance fee (which seems to be financing deforestation in my "woodland" complex) is just in the middle of that range.

As I was contemplating this, the next item had to do with affordable hotels in Makena, a Maui resort neighborhood adjacent to the ultra-pricey Wailea. The Makena development will feature rooms in the "affordable" $200-250 range, a value, I guess, if you can't pay the $400 to $500 nightly costs in Wailea. Such contrasts. I do hope that the folks in the cheap studios in Kaneohe have better manners than some of the Wailea guests. I have a friend who works in a dress shop there who has on more than one occasion found urine in the trash cans in the fitting rooms. Which just suggests that money doesn't buy decency.

After these curious news reports, I turned the radio off (having learned how to do that) to drive in silence (not counting the Miata's purr), contemplating the sun rising from behind the mauka cloud banks. Later that night, I watched the same sun set off my lanai. It gave me a sense of balance.